FEC hires innovative startup to help bring U.S. Senate into 21st Century

IMG_1992.JPG In a win for democracy & open government, the Federal Election Commission has signed a contract with Captricity to convert paper campaign contribution disclosure filings by U.S. Senators into data.

Alert readers may recall my story on the startup two years ago, when they launched a better way of converting forms into data using Amazon Mechanical Turk, machine learning, and an innovative use of crowdsourcing.

More recently, they were involved in the OpenFDA project.

Great news.

Update: Derek Willis, one of the best data-driven campaign finance reporters around, did not agree with the headline of this post:

We’ll have to choose to disagree on this count. Converting these paper records has the potential to put more pressure on Senators to upgrade from paper disclosures and to demonstrate the value of digitizing campaign finance data, in terms of more access to insights, analysis and increased velocity of analyses.

It’s true that the Senate itself hasn’t been magically upgraded, reformed or shifted, but in my view making this aspect of funding more open will lead to more media and members of the public becoming aware and understanding how money is being spent, by whom, and given to whom, which could in turn create more accountability.

I don’t expect this kind of transparency to disinfect the Senate, per se, but it could lead to some discomfort as data-driven bleach seeps into some cracks.

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